Tuesday, March 1, 2011

'Johnnie On The Spot'

Beast of the East.
Connecticut guard Kemba Walker was the clear cut favorite to win Big East player of the year early in the season, but his play has been less than spectular as of late, and the Huskies don't look as formidable.  Coming down the stretch in the regular season, no team in the conference, or maybe even the entire country, is playing better than the St. John's Red Storm (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) and most of that success has had to do with senior guard Dwight Hardy.  At the beginning of the season, newly hired head coach Steve Lavin said he would be happy with being in the conversation for the NCAA tournament come this time of year.  With the Johnnies (19-9, 11-5 Big East) going 7-0 in the month of February, with wins over potential tourney number one seed Pittsburgh, UConn, and most recently Villanova, the only question about St. John's tournament status is how high they will be seeded.  And with a roster that includes nine seniors who haven't won much over their college careers, they have the look of a team that won't be happy with just getting to the dance.  Hardy is the hard-nosed squad leader and is flat out balling during this recent seven game stretch.  The Bronx native had a career-high 33 points in the dramatic win over Pitt at Madison Square Garden where he drove through the paint and made a Jordanesque dribble fake away from the baseline, spun back towards the baseline while tip-toeing to keep his balance, and laying in the game-winning teardrop over a couple of defenders with 1.2 seconds left on the clock.  I felt like describing in writing, but just watch and see for yourself . . .

In the matchup with 'Nova last Saturday Hardy topped that scoring mark with 34 points in a 81-68 road win at the Pavilion.  Right now, he's got to be the front-runner for Big East player of the year with Providence guard Marshon Brooks, (25.1 points per game leads Big East, second in nation), Notre Dame senior guard Ben Hansborough, and Walker being the other considerations.  SJU is currently the third ranked team in the Big East (a conference expected to get 11 teams into the NCAA tournament) and has the opportunity for more big wins when the conference tournament starts next week at the Garden.  Hardy and St. John's are heading into March Madness with a head of steam, but they're not the only team to watch out for.

Kansas State
Senior guard Jacob Pullen is playing like the first-team Big 12 talent he is late in the season after a rocky start.  The Wildcats (21-9, 9-6 Big 12), currently unranked after opening the season ranked No. 5, have two big wins over Kansas and Missouri at home in each of the last two weeks and a 75-70 statement victory over a hungry Texas team in Austin on Monday.

Brigham Young
It's not just Jimmer who can hurt you when facing the CougarsBYU (27-2, 13-1 Mountain West) has crept up to No. 3 in the polls -- the highest ranking in school history -- and Fredette (27.3 points per game, leads nation) gets solid assistance from 6-foot-5 forward Charles Abouo, a swingman that can bang on the boards as well as knock down the open 3, and senior guard Jackson Emery, who has hit four or more 3-pointers in a game eight times this season. 

Yeah, the Wildcats did drop two games on the road in the conference over the weekend but there is a well kept secret in Tucson that will come to light come tournament time.  Teams better not sleep on Arizona because sophomore forward Derrick Williams is a potential NBA lottery pick who has quietly put together an All-American calibur season.  The 6-foot-8 Williams (19.1 points per game, 8.1 rebounds) is an elite athlete who is virtually unguardable.  He has notched double figures in scoring in all but one game this year while shooting 61-percent from the field.  Words can't say enough, roll footage . . .

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